Fighting populism with more populism?
The lead–up to the March–24 general election sees an unprecedented clash of populist policies. Absent in the debate, however, are convincing ideas as to how they would be financed.
They may be on the different side of aisles when it comes to politics, but Thai political parties seem to share a number of economic philosophies as seen by policies they are presenting to voters.
Thai political parties are promising voters with heavy government intervention and deregulation yet they are tilting toward welfare state and subsidies in various forms. Let’s take a look at highlights of economic policies of some political parties, which should give some tips for voters before the general election.
Palang Pracharat: Head start but
Start with Palang Pracharat Party which is synonymous with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government. The party has vowed to continue using public infrastructure projects as a catalyst for growth. The Prayut government kicked off a number of public investments in the past years, including the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) to leapfrog toward high tech industries. The party said it would also upgrade five million SMEs to become smart SMEs and one million farmers to become smart farmers through advanced technologies and give away welfare cards to the poor to promote domestic consumption. Nonetheless, the incumbents may not always hold the upper card from being in office for five years. There are growing criticisms against Prayut’s government over its failure in income distribution. Credit Suisse reported that Thailand is now the the world’s most unequal country with one percent of the richest holding 66.9 percent of the country’s wealth.
Pheu Thai: Upping the ante
Pheu Thai Party said it would “fatten people’s wallets” with its economic policies. In an apparent rebuttal to Prayut’s EEC, which is seen as favoring big multinational companies, Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, Pheu Thai leader, said the party planned to extend the EEC privileges to Thai companies located outside the EEC zone. Pheu Thai aims to woo young entrepreneurs by promising to give them a “Start Up Gold Card” to facilitate their business. Pheu Thai also promised to grant e-commerce entrepreneurs a two-year tax exemption and cut corporate income tax for first-timers. To increase inbound tourists to 50 million per year, the party plans to end visa-on-arrival for Chinese tourists and ramp up tourist receipts to Bt3 trillion per year. Absent from Pheu Thai’s policy platform this year is the rice-pledging policy which was championed by former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Democrat: Following up on unfinished business
Democrat Party vowed to complete its unfinished business of establishing communal land rights deeds and land bank which, the party claimed, was initiated by the Democrat Party administration under then-prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. The so-called “Blue Land Rights Deeds” is aimed at providing access to land resources to every community member. The party said it would also set up the communal water fund to ensure stable supply of water throughout the year. To address sluggish farm prices, Democrat Party promised to guarantee income for farmers at the rate of Bt10,000 per kwian (approximately one ton) and Bt60 per one kilogram of rubber to address the falling farm prices. This is despite criticism that the line between price guarantee and populism policies is getting thin.
Future Forward: Closing the economic gap
Future Forward Party boasted its campaign to end monopoly of big businesses such as in duty-free, radio broadcast and television to allow newcomers to join the playing field. Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of Future Forward Party, said the party would also amend beer monopoly regulation which currently requires brewer to produce as much as least 10 million liters per year to be legal for mass distribution. Future Forward Party said it would “liberalize” funding sources by requiring commercial banks to open headquarters upcountry in the future. While attempting to lessen the government’s control on economic regulations, Future Forward Party nonetheless is selling a welfare concept by promising to spend Bt650 billion on welfare for everyone. It remains unclear how the party would finance such massive welfare funding.
Bhumjaithai: Banking on the weed
Talking about thinking outside the box, Bhumjaithai Party’s Anutin Charnvirakul called himself as a “Weedman” to fight for people’s rights to grow cannabis. As Thailand became the first Asian country to legalize the use of marijuana for medical use, Bhumjaithai went further to recommend that six marijuana plants should be permitted per household so that growers can earn additional income. The party’s pro-pot policy has apparently overshadowed its other interesting policies such as Burirum model, which could be a model for regional city development, and free online learning course, which has unfortunately gone unnoticed.
Chartthaipattana: Attacking problems with “No Problem” approach
Chartthaipattana Party boasted the “No Problem” slogan in reference to the trademark motto of late prime minister Chatichai Choonhavan who governed the country during one of its boom times back in late 1980’s. Like other parties, the party plans to set up funds to help low-income earners such as a Bt20-billion farm welfare fund and a Bt10-billion SME fund to grant special loans for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Where will the money come from?
Generally speaking, all parties prefer pro-business policies with the government intervention in the form of populism or welfare, which seem to be music to the ears of voters. However, these policies would require the government’s budget commitment in the long term. Regardless of whichever party is elected, the government’s role in influencing the path of economy will increase with a larger amount of the budget to be spent, even during economic turbulences that none can foresee. — By ThaiPBS World’s Economic Desk